“You should check out our shop and see what we’ve got going on. I’m not sure if you know much about Soul Poles but we are a small startup geared towards making sexy products for soulful people,” read the email. It was from Bryon Friedman, sent to me last February, in the deep of winter. It took several months of coordinating our schedules for us to finally make the meeting happen, even though his company is based a short 5 minute drive from my house in Park City. Ski tours, trips and travel we’re the conflict. Finally, we hooked up in early October, just as the first few flakes of an early fall storm began to hit the ground. The Soul Poles facility is in a low-profile office area in the Silver Creek area of Park City, with fantastic views of the Wasatch Back, and the accompanying ski terrain. Friedman, who’s wearing flip-flops, jeans, and a ruffled head of dark hair, greets me warmly; he looks like he’s ready for the beach rather than the onset of winter. “Yeah, I just got back from a surfing trip in Indonesia” he says. “What an incredible trip- the surfing was amazing!”
Friedman is a former World Cup ski racer, putting in 10 years on the White Circus, a racing career that was marked by podium finishes, combined with the bad luck of injury, as can be the case with downhillers. “I started in the technical events, before going over to the dark side,” he says of the switch to the speed world. “Now I’ve found that surfing gives me the adrenaline rush that racing the downhill once did.”
After retiring from racing, Friedman pursued a music career. A talented singer/songwriter, and was named artist of the year by XM/Sirius’ Coffee House station in 2009. Friedman eventually returned to the business of skiing, starting Soul Poles- ski poles made out of bamboo.
Today, with Friedman, I’m going to make my own pair, which anyone can do. The company offers times where you can schedule a date where you can come and build your own. They also have a mobile workshop that is traveling the west all winter- a workshop on wheels where you can also craft your own.
Friedman takes me through the process, along with Soul Shop Manager James Evans. Nearly 10,000 units of 5-6 foot length bamboo shafts are imported from the Guangzhau Province in China. “There are nearly 2000 different species of bamboo explains Evans, we find these to be the best, and we’ll inspect all of them by hand. Any defect can compromise the strength; specifically we use Tonkin bamboo for its natural strength. This cane is used in a variety of things, including fly fishing rods and timpani (drum) handles.” Indeed, they show me a picture of them doing pull ups on a length, it flexes, but doesn’t break. “Try that with aluminum” says Evans. “We’ve found a family that grows it, and it perfectly matches our need,” adds Friedman.
After inspection, the ‘nodes’ of the pole are knocked out from the inside with drill they’ve built specifically for the purpose. The ‘nodes’ are the blockages inside the pole that separate the sections of growth. From there the bamboo goes into a kiln to take any moisture out, essentially dehydrating the bamboo and hardening the shafts at the same time. Next, the poles are transferred to a 50 gallon drum filled with a mix of baby oil, linseed oil, “and some other stuff that we keep secret” says Evans. The oil adds luster and protects the cane. After a good soak, followed by a good ‘rest’, the shafts are ready to be built. Friedman points me to the belt sander, where I’ll grind down the ends for placement of the tips and grips. The whole manufacturing process of my pair today is low-tech, a marked contrast in a ski equipment world of continually evolving high-tech practices. That’s part of the allure I’m told. “Bamboo is a renewable resource, it’s something that grows naturally. We’re using a sustainable design and truly a ‘green’ product,” Friedman explains. We’d like to eliminate aluminum ski poles, which is an extraction and non-renewable resource. Bamboo poles will last forever, and thereby, reduce waste.
The high-tech part is next however. The poles are placed in the engraver, which places the cool Soul Poles logo on the shaft. I’m also able to email a file of the UAJ logo, which Friedman also burns into the pole. My own custom ski poles, a handcrafted work of art.
I then give the tip and grip (of which I get to choose from several colors) a shot of epoxy and bang ‘em on. My poor placement of the grip doesn’t get it on all the way, but Friedman is prepared with a handy heat gun to remove it and gives me another go. I add the straps and baskets, easy enough, and they are ready to go.
If you want to get your own, they offer a variety of options including color options and a limited edition annual release from artist R. Nelson Parrish. In an increasing mass-produced ski world, I find it encouraging to discover something different and unique that will reminds you, it’s all about our love for the sport.
Pick up some Soul for this winter, these boys in PC have plenty to spare.
Go to www.soulpoles.com to reserve a date to make your own, or to find out where the Mobile Workshop, piloted by Matt Hundhammer, will be setting up at a resort or town near you.